It was a little past seven, and the crowd was already swelling at Los Angeles Fashion Week’s (LAFW) Opening Gala on October 4. There was already a throng of well-dressed men and women waiting their turn to be photographed in front of a flower arrangement that spelled out the letters L.A.F.W and subsequently, on the plush STYLE & SOCIETY pink carpet. Even inside the dimly-lit reception area, the snaps didn’t stop with plenty more photo ops by the floor-to-ceiling, boisterously-colored paintings by Rolland Berry, and during mini makeover sessions at sponsor Living Proof’s styling post where guests enjoyed getting heads of hair curled, blown, brushed or swept into carefully coiffed buns. In other words, there was a flurry of activity while attendees waited for the festivities dreamed up by Executive Producer Arthur Chipman for LAFW’s Spring/Summer 2018 season, which came in the heels of fashion weeks of Paris, Milan, New York and London.
Along with the Opening Gala, Kinya Claiborne, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of STYLE & SOCIETY Magazine co-hosted the Influencer Event back in September, as the magazine joined LAFW in its inaugural year as a media partner along with Destination Luxury. Needless to say, the event, which is held biannually, was much-touted and highly anticipated, especially for its introduction of on-the-rise, international names to the LA fashion scene. No place was more perfect or better suited to transform into a nexus of global fashion than the historic Alexandria Hotel, located in the belly of downtown Los Angeles. Decked out with enormous crystal chandeliers and ornate gilded moldings, the ballroom was quickly filled with bloggers, budding designers and editors at around eight thirty, all armed with pens, notebooks and cameras.
The Opening Gala kicked off with fashion-art rock band, Palaye Royale, performing several songs (ending with the lead singer throwing himself into the laps of several audience members, spilling a drink or two in the process), followed by a graceful performance by the Anaheim Ballet. It was finally the moment the present club of fashion insiders were anxiously waiting for—Peru-born designer Noe Bernacelli’s show. A hush hung over the ballroom as the audience sat in rapt silence, craning their necks. And then, a cheer erupted the minute the first model’s flesh-toned heel hit the floor.
The sounds of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade—an energetic, upbeat version by Seelenluft—washed over the hall as models glided gracefully down the runway, with floor-sweeping gowns that were marveled at and mused upon. The silhouettes clung to every dip and curve, loosening into full ball skirts. There was a whimsy and romanticism to it all—bodices encrusted with appliqué, jewel-like embellishments on sheer fabric that, at times, blended and coalesced with the surface of skin. The opulent details themselves, set against gold, apricot and rose, gave Noe’s gowns a spirit of regality.
“I’m inspired by nature,” Noe later said with a coy smile, and it’s easy to see how. It’s evident in the trains that rippled like a cascade of water. You could see his affinity for living creatures in the red snake that twisted and curved around embroidered petals on the fitted, sheer bodice of a champagne-colored gown. Gold snakes also made an appearance coiling on the side of a high-necked, long-sleeved gown sewn out of mesmerizing cobalt-blue velvet.
You could see Noe’s admiration for the Renaissance in the painstaking attention to detail, the brilliance of which partly lies in the fabric (a rare variety exclusive to Peru) Noe uses to create his designs. And since every dress is made by hand, it takes over 300 hours of work to put a gown together.
In that sense, Noe’s show was not just a journey to a different part of the world, it was also a voyage in time. He embraced what he loved most about his years living in Italy, taking his cues from its art and attention to detail. The details were, perhaps, the biggest nod to the Renaissance, and particularly one of its most revered artists, Sandro Botticelli—the eloquence of the female figure, the dainty, luminous characteristics of their flowing, wind-swept garments, and the spectrum of soft, almond-tinted colors he uses. When one model walked down the runway, an argument could have been made that her dress—white, with a pattern of nude and green florals—worn underneath an emerald-green coat with a fur-lined collar, was vaguely reminiscent of what Botticelli’s Minerva dons in Minerva and the Centaur.
A few menswear looks appeared on the runway, all clean and streamlined, with models sporting turtlenecks underneath fitted suits. It was obvious as the last model walked out that experiencing Noe’s collection felt somewhat like the stomach-roiling excitement of being on a rollercoaster. When it ended, it left the audience wanting, well, more. If Noe’s show had been a song, the crowd would have clamored for an encore.
Luckily, there were four more days of fashion week to go, and the second evening didn’t fail to exhilarate. Guitar Patinya, Founder and Designer behind Patinya, commenced the show with her premium, privé collection. The takeaway? That softness has particular place in fashion, and Patinya toyed with the idea in a way that didn’t distract from the designer’s classic slant. Sure, there were several looks that were clean-lined and straightforward—a white jumpsuit with a plunging neck, a long, solid-white one-shoulder dress—almost all alternating between neutral tones of ballet-slipper pinks, blacks, whites and pine-greens. But mostly, Patinya’s designs were touched by softening agents—lace inserts, ruffles climbing up the sides of the legs and, perhaps the most impressive, details that boasted close-to 15,000 hand-sewn flowers. The flowers were proof that one of Thailand’s oldest traditions, the practice of stringing blossoms on a garland, is still alive and well.
Next, Milin, another Thailand-born brand with Milin Yuvacharukskul at its helm, started off the show by sending out bright colors—a mustard-yellow pencil dress, fuchsia wide leg trousers, a skirt and crop top set with green and pink lace overlays, all paired with colorfully feathered heel sandals. There were whites, off-whites and blacks in the palette, too, alluding to the sophisticated-but-sexy facet of her brand. “I came up with a fun idea, like the girls are working in a high-rise and try to dress to impress,” she said, explaining the menswear feel certain looks exuded, like the asymmetrical chiffon dress peeking from underneath an oversized suit jacket.
Throughout the show, she stuck to her agenda, including some cool-girl staples like an off-the-shoulder blouse and dress and a choker that wrapped around the model’s neck, tied with a belt-like buckle and trailed behind her back. There was also an intriguing interplay in styles and fabrics—metallic hues, snake prints lined with polka-dot feathers puffs and net inserts. And as the show progressed, the mood changed. Colors darkened, fabrics flaunted more sparkle, and hemlines lengthened as the garments inched toward evening attire. It was like the sun had set, and all beaded and sequined fringes, poofs of feather, and shimmering fabrics had come out to play.
And speaking of playing, following a spectacular show by ASV (ASAVA’s sister line), Issue Thailand toyed with people’s imagination when the brand sent out a couple of models in clothes (ankle-grazing dresses topped with blazers) that created the illusion of being headless. It was a bewitching moment, one that elicited exclamations like “how is that possible?” and “Wait, what?” It’s safe to say it was also a moment that put everybody’s phones and cameras to work.
In keeping with the fun energy of the previous night’s finale, the next day of LAFW began with George Styler’s collection—a considerable departure from anything attendees had seen before, mainly because the designer tackled knitwear. Combining classic hand-knitting and modern knitting techniques, George put together a flamboyantly colorful and glittering line that dazzled in the spotlight just as much as it did in the eyes of everyone present.
During his 10-month stay in the United States, George was influenced by Hollywood, imbuing his designs with glamor essential to the area. Decked out in mostly bodysuits, models showcased masquerade-ready, ornate headpieces created by George’s colleague and student Jimmy Garcia. The play on different patterns was key, and so were the quirky and artful motifs, especially that of blinged-out skulls, emojis and two parrots facing each other beak-to-beak (the parrots, a recurrent symbol of freedom in his designs). All were just right for the celebration of glamor that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“My inspiration is Hollywood, but also, fairytales and beauty of nature,” he said. “And I like to combine styles from different part of the world, like motifs from Asia, South America, Balkans, Eastern Europe, Russia and Indonesia.” The evening proceeded with works from Indonesian-born designers Rinda Salmun and Jeffry Tan, respectively, and wrapped up with Sav Lavin by Jakarta-born-and raised Savira Lavinia.
Day five started off with New York City-based artist Radka Salcmannova’s showcase, an installation that required the same kind of slow and deliberate scrutiny that a work of art in a museum would demand—a complete concentration that blanked out everything else. Resembling sculptures rather than clothes, Radka’s designs, transformed silicon into masks, headpieces, dresses and footwear.
Moving from the surreal to the wearable, the show was followed by Maryland-bred Bishme R. Cromartie, whose sexy, glittery and body-hugging pieces was a lot more grounded in reality. Then, Eloshi took the stage, with Georgian-born designer Lela Eloshvili behind the newly minted brand. Lela’s design elements harken back to Georgia’s centuries-old garments. Take, for example, the traditional “Chokha,”—a traditional costume designed with cartilage holders on the chest, which Lela integrated into her clothes. The folds that usually hold bullets were empty, turned into a more of a casual statement that gracefully paid homage to her stomping grounds. There were other subtle elements, too—letters borrowed from the Georgian alphabet and used as patterns on flowy, translucent gowns, and symbols of grape leaves accenting dresses.
But while Georgian customs are traditionally lavish, adorned with intricate details, it was very much a modern air that wafted through Lela’s pieces. “I choose fabrics that are comfortable to wear,” said Lela. “That’s just my personal preference. I like wearing things that are comfortable, that drape well.” Even the colors evoked a certain sense of subtlety—neutral hues of nudes, blacks, whites, with a handful of outfits that pleasantly surprised with their bursts of color, especially the finale dress that punctuated the collection with a pop of ocean-like blue.
The night ended with Marry Me Jimmy Paul—a brand that, since its inception, has attracted the likes of Rihanna, Paris Hilton and Kesha. An electrifying line that erred on the verge of the bizarre and eerie. Not only did the clothes demand our visual attention, they also beckoned to be heard—because they quite literally made a lot of noise. You could hear with every step the models took—the clink, clink of chains, the clatter of the teardrop-shaped crystals ringing the waistline of an iridescent gown, the crinkle of plastic. In theory, it should have been distracting, but it was far from it. In fact, it added to the sensory experience.
The pieces themselves represented a stimulating visual experience. A little tattered, a little all over the place, but mostly impressive because of the stiff, hard-to-work-with materials like plastic that normally don’t lend themselves to creativity. But that didn’t stop Amsterdam-based duo Marie Burlot and Jimmy Rinsum from molding them into awe-inducing outfits, like a bubble-shaped dress and a white robe layered like a wedding cake. “We drew a lot of inspiration from typical 50s- housewife hobbies, like knitting, macramé, embroidery, and we tried to elevate that type of craft,” said Jimmy. And that’s exactly where the label’s fun and surreal quality lies, blurring the lines between art and fashion.
With brands like Nordic Angels (created by Marketa Häkkinen), and BYO, LAFW wrapped up its last day on a high note. Industrial designer Tommy Ambiyo’s tops and clutches spoke volumes about where the designer’s inspiration came from. “The theme was to capture something that happened in the US and in Indonesia, which is the solar eclipse,” said Tommy later that evening. “I saw it, and I wanted to capture its beauty—the beauty that unites everyone.” It was evident in the three-dimensional, spike-like shapes that jutted out the front, backs and sides of several tops, simulating rays of sun. But even more so, it was noticeable it in the colors—fiery reds, royal purples and golds (the designer also mentioned being moved by alchemy). Drawing attention to accessories, Tommy opted to pair his designs with solid black dirndl skirts.
His technique, which weaves plastic in a complicated pattern that resembles origami, prompts a double take. It took him two years to perfect the precise formula, which is carried out by a machine and fine-tuned by man. In other words, it was by no means an easy endeavor, but it was the pivot on which the collection revolved. And just as Noe’s oeuvre tipped its hat to the past, Tommy’s aspired to look into the future.
It could have ended there, with Tommy’s futuristic outlook and inventive techniques. But LAFW’s pièce de résistance was Lotuz Jakarta’s line. Saturated with juxtapositions, the subject was hipster-slash-rocker meets pretty girlishness, and Lotuz juggled an array of materials—beadings mixed with crepe mixed with tulle. A strapless jacquard high-low dress paired with white converse shoes. Single-sleeved, crisp-white shirt tucked into a half-jacquard, half-mesh pencil skirt with pink ruffles sandwiched in between. Even the models’ hair and makeup were taken into account in reflecting these contradictions, as all sported a wet, undone hair with elaborate makeup. “It’s inspired by Venice Beach, very LA,” said Lotuz, once again proving the kind of influence a sense of place can have over fashion.
After several voyages to Thailand, Italy, Georgia and Indonesia, it was perhaps a perfect way to end the five-day extravaganza—with an unapologetically brash, cool collection that circled back home. By the end of its fifth and final day, LAFW had asserted its role as a trailblazer in changing the landscape of fashion and Fashion Week in Los Angeles. In that sense, it also proved to be a lesson in how culture continues to exercise a powerful influence on fashion and how fashion can become an integrative device for gathering together in conversation, in educating one corner of the world—its traditions, language and worldview—about another so wholly different.